Twenty Israeli teens from Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether communities of Karmiel and Misgav joined with the 19 local Diller Teen Fellows last week to experience Jewish life, American-style.
The cultural exchange program is a joint project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Agency for Jewish Learning, and is administered by the AJL.
The 10th-graders from Israel were in the United States for a 10-day tour, which began with a get-to-know-you retreat at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, where the teenagers, joined by Pittsburgh’s Diller teens, spent Shabbat together in “an international, pluralistic setting,” according to Lisa Sobel-Berlow, program coordinator of the Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows.
Following Shabbat, the teens traveled to Washington, D.C., where they visited the BBYO Panim Institute to learn about homelessness in America, then toured the monuments on the National Mall.
The teens then headed to Pittsburgh for the remainder of the week, where they were treated to home hospitality, and an in-depth look at Jewish Pittsburgh, as well as sites such as the inclines and Mt. Washington. Then, of course, came shopping.
The Israeli teens learned about Jewry in the Diaspora, and the significance of the Reform and Conservative movements in North America. Some of the Israeli teens were surprised to learn of the prevalence of interfaith cooperation in this country, exemplified by joint social service projects such as those between Rodef Shalom and the Calvary Episcopal Church, Sobel-Berlow said.
“The idea of cooperation and working together doing mitzva days with other religious groups was really eye-opening for the Israelis,” she said.
The teens also participated in a Peoplehood Program, led by Tal Gale and Liat Raviv-Cohen, international directors of Diller Teen Fellows Program, where they focused “on the idea that we are all part of Jewish peoplehood, the idea that we are all one big family,” according to Sobel-Berlow.
A panel including Yehuda Lowy, Michael Werbow, Donni Aaron and Malke Frank, comprised a forum for the teens to learn in detail about the various streams of North American Judaism.
“It was really eye-opening for the teens to see there are so many options here,” said Sobel-Berlow. She said the rabbis on the panel “weren’t disagreeing with each other, they were building upon one another. It was wonderful for the teens to see in the community that we can all get along.”
Sixteen-year-old Alon Resnick from Kibbutz Tuval in Misgav, found his week in Pittsburgh “very meaningful,” he said.
“The program is very nice and educational from the point of view that we are not here just for fun,” he said. “It is very meaningful and powerful learning about the different streams of Judaism. The Reform and Conservative [movements] are much bigger in the U.S. than in Israel. And the Reform and Conservative are very open communities, very welcoming and warm. It is my perspective about God, so I can connect.”
The teens also joined together for several social service projects throughout the week, including working a the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, visiting with residents of Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and working on a project for Habitat for Humanity.
The Pittsburgh Diller teens will travel to Israel this coming summer for three weeks where they will reconnect with their new Israeli friends.
“I am looking forward to them coming to Israel this summer,” said Resnick. “It is my home, and I looking forward to showing them around.”
The Diller Teen Fellows Program is a 15-month international leadership program for Jewish teens that “empowers participants to be active, effective leaders with a strong Jewish identity and a respect for pluralism.
The Diller program is now starting the application process for the next cohort of teen fellows. Recommendations for teens currently in grades nine and 10 are being accepted through April 19, 2013. Contact Sobel-Berlow at 412-521-1100 for more information.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)